This 92nd Edition of Justice For All is about the motion some defendants file in an attempt to stop a sentence from being imposed.
Iowa Court Rule 2.24(3) defines a motion in arrest of judgment as “an application by the defendant that no judgment be rendered on a finding, plea, or verdict of guilty.” The motion must be granted when “upon the whole record no legal judgment can be pronounced.”
Motions in arrest of judgment are used to challenge the validity of a guilty plea. Whether done in person, for a felony, or in writing, for most misdemeanors, a guilty plea must include a number of things. The plea must inform the defendant of his or her rights and the maximum and minimum punishments for each offense, find a factual basis that the defendant committed the crime(s), determine that the guilty plea is voluntary, and allow the defendant the right to speak to the judge which is called the right of allocution. If any plea proceeding omits one of these requirements the defendant may file a motion in arrest of judgment to void the plea.
The deadline to file a motion in arrest of judgment is 45 days after the guilty plea or verdict and no less than five days before judgment is scheduled to be entered. Many defendants waive their right to file a motion in arrest of judgment in order to avoid a delay between the guilty plea and sentencing. This is allowed. However, if a defendant doesn’t waive their right to file a motion in arrest of judgment but fails to file it before the deadline their right to challenge the sufficiency of the proceedings is waived and their guilty plea or verdict becomes final.
Motions in arrest of judgment are rarely filed and when they are it’s usually by a defendant who got “cold feet” or who has buyer’s remorse after a guilty plea. These are not legitimate reasons for filing or granting a motion in arrest of judgment. However, a motion in arrest of judgment can legitimately be used to challenge the application of the law to the facts of the case.
In 1981, a Worth County district court judge granted a motion in arrest of judgment filed by Bruce W. Oldfather. Oldfather was found guilty of the crime of terrorism because the facts showed that while driving a station wagon he repeatedly engaged in maneuvers that were calculated to force another vehicle off the road. The judge threw out the jury’s guilty verdict because the terrorism statute required that a defendant “launch a dangerous weapon” and the defendant’s behavior, terrorizing as it may have been to the victim, did not amount to launching his vehicle at another vehicle.
The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s ruling in the Oldfather case but also noted that the district court on remand should determine if there were reasonable grounds that “some other offense” had been committed. They did so because winning a motion in arrest of judgment does not mean the defendant is acquitted of all charges, rather, the motion turns back the clock to allow for an opportunity to fix the error that caused the motion in arrest of judgment to be successful. In Oldfather’s case, the prosecution would have had the option to charge the defendant with different crimes that fit the facts of the case, or in other words, a second chance to reach justice for all.